Avatar Theory #3: The DoFollow Link Builder

In parts one and two we discussed the meaning of “avatar” and outlined a monitor & report approach savvy PR firms undertake: The “Walled Garden Forum Rat.” This post focuses on another common participatory profile: The “DoFollow Link Builder.”

This avatar profile is much more common than one might think. It’s also a fuzzy role, in terms of intent and ethics. Anonymous DoFollow link building avatars line the underbelly of social media link-juice mining, spooging points ostensibly awarded for participation.

Do a gut check. Have you ever sought out threads that pass link juice for comments and participated only to link build? Did you always participate using your own name and email, etc…? Are these really blog communities you care about?

Straight Up Disclaimer
Don’t Kill the messenger! We’re not passing judgment (pro/con) and not specifically revealing AIMCLEAR avatar products. There are varying degrees of risk and redemption to decisions surrounding corporate participation in social communities. Do this stuff–you might die and go to hell, or worse yet…make Google mad. On the other hand many SEOs partake in this methodology and think it’s just fine.

No Persona, Leaves “Name” as Mid-tail Keyword Anchor Text
Most blog comment threads, by default, allow commenters to leave a link on the anchor text of their avatar’s name. It’s not even necessary to leave html & anchor text in the actual comment box, which often triggers moderation. It’s so simple.

The only reason this avatar model even has a name of any sort, is for required contact information anchor text in comment threads. For instance, I might leave the name “Snow Plow Marty” and link back to snow-plow.php on the site I’m link building for, as I leave my comment on the WinterWonderland Blog.

A while back, most blogs quit passing Google juice, in threads, to keep SEOs from spamming the hell out them. That’s the same approach Wikipedia uses to discourage SEO-motivated participation. Still, many blogs leave the Google juice on, even .edus and other juicy fruit, to incent “participation. Andy Beard is the father of DoFollow to my mind and makes a great case for leaving things wide open.  His work is well worth the read as he contends that all blogs should be DoFollow.

At the end of the day, some blog owners leave their comment threads open to reward users for participation. Others are either not not sophisticated, use an older CMS or their companies’ built out content on custom platforms run by administrators who are just plain oblivious to the implications.

Footprints in The Cyber Sand
There are well known “foot prints” to help locate DoFollow thread opportunities. The DoFollow Link Builder avatar is a shrewd little beach mouse, sniffing them out and swiping the cheese.

It’s plenty impossible for a blog moderator (or automated spam catchers) to tell the difference between an authentic comment and this little guy’s on-topic and-crafted emulated topical relevance. Watch for Google to devalue DoFollow blog comments (and other social media links that reward participation), as here lies a direct threat to Google’s ranking methods.

Here’s a breakout of The DoFollow Link Builder avatar’s M.O:

  • Drives Traffic & Link Juice: There’s promotional benefit to being one of the first comments on a blog. DoFollow threads also pass link juice. Traffic and Google juice are two primal drivers for social SEOs. It’s an irresistible combo.
  • Uses footprints to Locate Linking Opportunities: Footprints identify content management systems with common idiosyncrasies. DoFollow threads are pretty easy to spot if you know what to look for. We’d love to delve deeper into the “footprint”mentality, as it’s a fascinating intersection at the corners of SEO and SMO. Perhaps we’ll do so in a later post.
  • Couldn’t Care Less About Brand, Past SEO. The DoFollow Link Builder Avatar is only interested in anchor text that counts. Save the pretty pictures for the graphic arts department.
  • Concerned With Topical Relevance of Participation: That’s the main rub. In order to get over with the anchor text/link and make links stick, the avatar needs to create a comment that is actually real, useful and on topic.
  • Low Profile, Makes No Friends, No Emotional Involvement: It’s great to engage in a dialog. It’s better to get 25 PR3 .edu links from different blogs in 4 hours. No time for chit chat.
  • Bears No Resemblance to Blogger Team: It only takes a minimum of creativity to leave a topically relevant comment on anchor text that helps. No tears are shed or friends made. The blogger’s personal interests need not align with target blogs. This is all about links and SEO.
  • Focused on PageRank: PR3 is better than PR4 and PR5 better than both. Toolbar PR is not the only factor that affects link value. However, it certainly does not suck. Links from high PR pages are good.
  • Does Not Sell: This avatar would not cheapen valuable links with gratuitous sales tactics, which might cause a comment to be deleted by the blog owner.
  • No Question of Ownership: When the link builder leaves, he or she does not take the thousands of killer DoFollow links. They remain in place.

avatar-seriesAbout This Series: We began quietly polling our peers starting 10 months ago, to map patterns and common approaches to commercial social media participation.

This series stems from that research. SEOs we’ve spoken with (some names you probably know) are not willing to check a little survey box to a) reveal methodologies b) risk the judgment of peers c) put their name to a tactic. This is all because there is a remarkable lack of consensus when it comes to avatars.

Opinions vary regarding ethics as concern personal/political agendas and marketing tactics. The reality is that social media engagement models range from completely fact-based and transparent representations of real humans expressing their true identities, to malfeasant provocateurs.

Stay tuned– we’ll soon be covering Trolls, Lovely Celebrity Spokesmodels and Press Secretaries, both using pseudonyms and real names.

This post continues our lead up to the What Is Ethical Social Media Marketing SMX East session at 1:45PM, October 2 in New York. Moderated by: Jeffrey K. Rohrs, Vice President, Marketing, ExactTarget-speakers includeLiana Evans, Director of Internet Marketing, Key Relevance, Steve Rubel, Senior Vice President, Director of Insights, Edelman Digital and me. My presentation will expound on this series of blog posts regarding modern avatar theory.

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